Police guard a shrine in Karachi
The scars of violence in this southern archdiocese are beginning to show.
“Expensive goods loaded in containers are decomposing after months of standing in monsoon rain. We lost 20 shipments of toys last week; all were ruined,” said Muhammad Husain, a toy shop owner I visited this weekend.
Traders have locked themselves in their homes and their families are starving, he added.
Husain is among thousands of small businessmen suffering from a wave of violence that is gripping Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, which accounts for around a fifth of the country’s GDP. Those who dare to open their shops are having a hard time finding customers.
Media reports say pre-Eid sales in shopping malls in the port city have nose-dived by around 70 percent when compared to last year’s sales. The echoes of gunshots and ambulance sirens have become part of everyday life in Karachi where about 1,500 people have been killed this year. These also include a few Christians.
Nobody knows the actual reasons behind the civil strife and mayhem. Many presume the violence is a result of long standing ethnic conflicts and differences, fueled by political forces. Some believe it is the work of gangs involved in organized crime. But the most disturbing thing is that the government seems unwilling to resolve the crises.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Sunday said that bringing in the military is not the solution to the Karachi problem and that civilians should handle law and order in a democratic society. That very same day, another 11 people were killed in different parts of the city.
Though I have nothing against long term solutions, a slow process will do little to save people who are in desperate need of immediate relief. The death toll is rising every day and time for protracted negotiations or forming committees may be over.
The craving for democracy in a country which was under military rule for more than half its existence has reached unheard-of peaks amid this ongoing emergency. Letting the people decide carries little meaning for those who have lost their loved ones.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has taken a vow of silence. The Pakistan Catholic Bishop’s Conference has not issued a press statement expressing concern regarding the situation in Karachi archdiocese. No priest in Karachi has visited the injured in hospitals, comforted grieving or affected families in their homes, joined protests against the bloodbath, organized a seminar against violence.
In fact the message of Archbishop Evarist Pinot of Karachi on August 14, the country’s Independence Day, seemed to express delusional thoughts.
“We are thankful to God that we observe our religious feasts and social events without any compulsion in a big city like Karachi. We visit our churches without fear not only day but also at night ... I know our Christians and other minorities live in fear in villages, but the situation is quite the opposite here in Karachi”, he stated.
The Church has to reconsider its role in a society tearing itself apart. It has to be strong amid the combined threats of fundamentalism and terrorism; even if it means standing up for the society in which it exists. Praying quietly for peace inside Church buildings and not tending to those in desperate need will result in people losing faith in the Church just like many have their lost their belief in the government’s ability to deal with the crisis.
Bullets and bombs kill without discrimination against religion. Linguistic, ethnic and sectarian divisions can morph into religious bigotry at any time. Speaking out against violence will ultimately benefit the Church and boost the confidence of its followers.
'Archangel' is the pseudonym of a Catholic commentator based in Karachi
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